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Physical health is a top concern for many people, from cradle to grave. You may forget to have medical check-ups when you are seemingly healthy and in the prime of your life, but babies are usually born in the presence of a skilled healthcare provider and most elderly people receive medical care towards the end of their lives.
While there is certainly no stigma attached to taking care of your physical health — actively seeking medical care, refraining from harmful activities, eating well, and exercising regularly — the same is not universally true when it comes to mental health.
The British National Health Service (NHS) just reported that 80,000 UK children are living with a mental illness, for example, and kids as young as five show signs of depression in the media age.
Experts believe that a general breakdown of the family unit, cyber bullying and other social media network problems are behind this increase in mental health problems among children. We can add school pressures to that list very easily. The expectation to perform well starts in early childhood these days — large amounts of homework, standardized tests, and extracurricular activities are integral parts of most kids' lives.
Those same pressures continue through adulthood, and it's easy to see how one can end up with depression and other mental health problems even without the presence of traumas such as domestic violence, war and terrorism.
October 10 marks World Mental Health Day, and this important awareness event focuses on older adults this year. The pressure to perform, survive and thrive in all areas of modern life might subside — to a certain extent at least — once a person reaches retirement age. But retirement does not also mark the end of mental health concerns.
Everyone is aware that depression, loneliness and isolation, empty-nest syndrome, and loss of self-worth can strike older adults, and we didn't even mention conditions like dementia and Alzheimer's disease yet. But that's not what World Mental Health Day is about this year. In 2013, World Mental Health Day Focuses on the positive aspects of mental health in the later stages of life.
Those modern pressures may lead older people to believe that they aren't offering a useful contribution to society any more once they retire, and leaving the work force or the responsibilities of raising a family behind may cause a true identity crisis in some folks.
Don't let anyone make you think that retirement is all about wasting away, or taking on your grown children's responsibilities and raising your grandkids on the other end of the spectrum. What is the key to happiness and excellent mental health later in life? The freedom to chase dreams that were beyond your reach earlier in life, and the liberty to do the things you truly enjoy.